Reflections on 15 years in internal communications and recruitment

09 November 2022

This year marks the 15th year of Comma Partners – a good time I think to reflect on the changes I’ve seen in internal communications.

As a recruiter, I immediately think of LinkedIn. One of my first jobs in 2007 was to build a list of interim prospects on what was then a very new platform; I started with 25 names. Today I have a network of thousands and use LinkedIn every day to connect, share and recruit and wonder what I would do without it.

Then I think about the changes in the digital world.   Fifteen years ago only a small number of innovative companies had any inkling of what ‘digital’ or ‘social media’ was and few IC pros had any experience. Today digital communications are central to almost everything we do. For me, it’s been transformational, good for the industry in many ways and enabled the hybrid way of working to thrive – but I do miss as many face-to-face interactions and feel a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ has been lost.

Authenticity – many who are mature in our market will remember when content was written by the IC business partner, approved by the leader, published by the team. While there will be senior leaders who still prefer that approach, the more authentic approach today is for the leader to conceive, write and even publish themselves. Who, 15 years ago, would ever have imagined that day would come?

Content – given the digital ‘real-time’ age we now live in, content is noticeably punchier and crisper because readers prefer a short, sharp read. But what drives the content hasn’t changed so much.  When I was in-house, I used the simple format of Think Feel Do and it seems as valid today as it ever was.

Storytelling – something I love, and which was somewhat novel in the noughties but which is hugely popular now and often listed as a skill on CVs that pass through Comma. With the shortness of content, the writer needs to engage the reader quickly and it is often easier with stories and relatable examples.  Coupled with visual content it’s still the best way to engage.  In fact, visual material is 75% more likely to be looked at than words.

Maturing of the IC market – back to the ‘90s, corporates began to hire talented heads of internal communication, often with PR or journalism backgrounds or, alternatively, IC teams grew out from enthusiastic individuals who could write, liked to organise events or who produced the company newsletter.  Many in IC now began their career in junior IC roles and there are various qualifications and coveted awards on offer. There is incredible depth of talent at all levels of the discipline. What a fantastic change to see.

Purpose – here is one we talk a lot about nowadays. At Comma, my fellow Director, Andy Macleod, and I are often asked by candidates about the purpose of a company. When I was interviewing for internal communications roles, I wondered if the interviewer about the boss and what the pay was like! Millennials however are known for their broader perspective on work and how it fits into their life: they ask about ESG (Environment, Social and Governance), well-being, health & safety, hybrid working, diversity & inclusion. Today, switched on employers should know that being able to articulate and adhere to a clear and resonating purpose is key to attraction and retention. 

Sellers’ Market – the biggie this last year is the incredible turnround from a flat and quiet market during lockdown to a tsunami of roles. Over the last 15 years the market largely ebbed and flowed in a similar rhythm through the seasons with quiet spells in January and August. But in 2021/2022 Comma, as per recruiters everywhere, was literally flat out.  And for the first time in 15 years, jobs exceeded applicants. We have had to encourage clients to ‘sell up their jobs’ and avoid glib descriptions like ‘exciting’ or ‘fascinating’, publish the salary (always) and to move at a rapid pace as candidates withdraw when quicker offers are available. With data claiming 69% of workers are looking to change jobs imminently versus 11% in the old days, the time would seem ripe for a reawakening in employee engagement and a review of the employee experience!  It feels good to see the balance of power change.

The last 15 years has been immense in the world of internal communications, particularly in the last two years, with COVID, lockdown, hybrid working, the focus on well-being and D&I and rapid digitalisation, which have tested the resilience of even the best leaders. In the background, resourcing specialists for internal communications has wrestled with IR35, the EU’s burdensome AWR and GDPR regulations, alongside the feast and famine of talent during recessions and the so-called ‘big resignation’. Time and again those in internal communications have proved their adaptability, how invaluable they are to organisations, large and small, and I really hope this means that IC leaders have finally achieved understanding of their strategic value in organisations.

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